Russian Journalist Yevgenia Albats on Putin

Concern about Putin’s interference in our elections springs from one’s love for American democracy.

I’ve mentioned before the fine Frontline series on Putin, entitled Putin’s Revenge (Parts 1 and 2 are online). The series also includes the full interviews with those who appeared in the two-part program. In the interview above, Russian journalist Yevgenia Albats talks about Putin’s rise.

Here’s a description of the series:

FRONTLINE spent months reporting for the documentary Putin’s Revenge, speaking with the heads of U.S. intelligence agencies, diplomats, journalists, scholars and political insiders from Russia and the United States. In all, 56 sources spoke to us on camera. Now, in an effort to make our journalism more transparent, we’re publishing the complete collection of these extended conversations. In “The Putin Files,” explore the interviews using interactive features that enable you to navigate by theme or person, select and share any excerpt on social media, and dig deeper into annotated content about this still unfolding history.

Frontline‘s website includes a bio of Albats:

Yevgenia Albats is an investigative journalist and editor-in-chief of The New Times, a Moscow-based independent political weekly. She is the author of four books, including The State Within a State: KGB and Its Hold on Russia — Past, Present and Future.

This is the transcript of an interview with FRONTLINE’s Michael Kirk conducted on July 10, 2017. It has been edited in parts for clarity and length.

Their Friends Are America’s Enemies

It’s no surprise, truly, that white nationalists who returned to Charlottesville chanted three main slogans: ‘You will not replace us,’ ‘Russia is our friend,’ and ‘the South will rise again.’

Each is false, and little more than a dark hope: the South they want (of slavery, bigotry, and treason) will never rise again, they have already been replaced by a more diverse and competitive population, and Russia (under either the Soviets or Putin) has never been America’s friend.

Putin has returned Russia to dictatorship after the briefest thaw, a return to brutality at home and abroad. Consider only a small video of opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s struggle in Russia, and know that while you consider him, vast numbers more are denied basic rights. The man who makes Russia oppressive for his own people delights in having lifted Trump to power in America, that Trump might in his own way degrade our way of life as Putin in his way has degraded life for his own people.

The Erosion of Political Norms (Concluding Part 4 in a Series)

local scene More than one small town has struggled for years under the debilitating influence of political & economic conflicts of interest, misguided priorities, and dodgy or grandiose claims. These conditions where those that  That Which Paved the Way for Trumpism. Those locally who carried on this way made Trumpism more likely, the way a moderate illness might weaken one’s immunity and make a deadly illness more likely.

Trumpism’s national champions contended – falsely – that America in 2016 faced an existential crisis. On the contrary, America’s existential crisis began not with Hillary Clinton’s campaign but with Donald Trump’s minority-vote victory. One might have had conventional, normal politics with Clinton; there was never a possibility of that with Trump.

Trumpism didn’t then face and existential threat – it created an existential threat.

On their own, many of these local problems would have lessened, slowly but inevitably; those who created these problems would have faded, slowly but inevitably. There’s little energy left in the dwindling ranks of those carrying on this way. I was right – then and now – when I once wrote in reply to a prominent social & political figure in town, predicting that ‘not one of those practices will endure to this city’s next generation.’

And yet, Trump’s national success will probably embolden more than one local man or woman to carry on a bit longer than he or she might otherwise have. Their political end will come, nonetheless.

What to do about all this?

First, Trump and his ilk himself will have to go, through whatever lawful means is available.

Second, America will have to assure both full adult access to the ballot, and the integrity of elections against foreign interference (both as foreign propaganda on domestic media and as hacking). One would prefer few laws to many, but even we’ve now many states legislating against easy ballot access. Better a single standard assuring access. We’ll need a policy of automatic voter registration. No one should be required to vote; no one should have to struggle to register to vote.

Third, and the most difficult of all, we’ll have to carry out a long period of a third reconstruction (the first being after the Civil War, the second being during the civil rights era) to assure that we do not again find ourselves in the situation that now plagues us: forces domestic and foreign united to undermine the American constitutional order.  That’s a long project, and I’d imagine – or at least hope – that the Rev. Dr. Barber, and so many other men & women, will guide us through that new, necessary reconstruction.

Previously: The Erosion of Political Norms, Parts 123.

Committee to Investigate Russia: ‘This is No Movie Script’

In the video above, Morgan Freeman reminds Americans that Russian interference in our electoral process is ‘no movie script’; Vladimir Putin is a dictator, murderer, and inveterate enemy of America and our democratic traditions.

The newly-formed Committee to Investigate Russia (https://investigaterussia.org) made its début yesterday. The CIR is a nonpartisan group – with both conservative, liberal, and libertarian members:

Nearly a year after Russia successfully interfered in the 2016 election, one thing remains abundantly clear: America can never let its guard down when it comes to the Russian threat to our democratic process. While we still don’t have definitive answers on much of what elapsed during the lead-up to the election — or, frankly, have a plan for what we can do to prevent this sort of thing going forward — what we do have is an issue that individuals on both sides of the aisle are desperate to get to the bottom of. It’s against this backdrop that the nonprofit, nonpartisan Committee to Investigate Russiawas launched on Sept. 19.

Via Committee to Investigate Russia.

Film: Icarus

When Bryan Fogel sets out to uncover the truth about doping in sports, a chance meeting with a Russian scientist transforms his story from a personal experiment into a geopolitical thriller involving dirty urine, unexplained death and Olympic Gold-exposing the biggest scandal in sports history.

Readers who have Netflix can catch Icarus, a documentary that describes the decades-long sports-doping program that the Soviet Union and successor Russian Federation authorized from the highest levels of government.

MH17, Three Years On

What exactly do we know about the events of July 17, 2014, when Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was blown out of the sky over Ukraine, killing 298 people?

The Fellow Travelers

Jeremy Peters nicely describes the descent of far too many into mere fellow travelers for Putin, a dictator, imperialist, and murderer (Peters is far too mild about Putin, but he’s ably identified the self-hating Americans who support Russian’s dictator, and some of whom are perhaps even fifth columnists for Russia):

WASHINGTON — Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

Via Reverence for Putin on the Right Buys Trump Cover.

Sarah Kendzior: The Kremlin Spokesman’s Odd Referral

Sarah Kendzior (@sarahkendzior) noticed this odd remark from the Kremlin’s spokesman in 2016, at the time he made it. It was a prescient catch, indeed. (Can’t recommend her work enough – a powerful, clear-sighted assessment of authoritarianism, well-suited to #TrumpRussia, and international relations beyond.)

Gabriel Schoenfeld on ‘Trump and his whole circus – They have no good choices’

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law, was a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney for President campaign. He observes the damage that Trump has done to the GOP:

Figures like Reince Priebus and Sean Spicer, cogs in the White House machinery who today seamlessly defend Trump and his lies, did not come to Trump World from the fever swamps of Breitbart News. They are from the heart of the GOP apparatus, the Republican National Committee, where only yesterday — in the aftermath of Mitt Romney’s 2012 defeat — they were preaching moderation and inclusiveness.

Employing their skills to rationalize Trump’s fabrications, his misogyny, his debasement of discourse and language, and his strange admiration for and acquiescence to Vladimir Putin, these apparatchiks have compromised themselves even more than Trump’s band of true believers. There is no going back. The latter — figures like Jeffrey LordKayleigh McEnany,and Katrina Pierson — have come to resemble a cult of unswerving loyalty to Trump and the Trump line….

As the Russian collusion story enters a new and perhaps decisive phase, it would not be surprising to see these intellectuals [Bennett, Gelernter, Kimball], along with the political operatives and politicians, stick with Trump to the bitter end. Having wandered into the muck, they are loath to admit how badly they’ve soiled themselves, let alone turn back. Their dilemma is quite similar to the one their hero now faces as the lies unravel and the truth comes to light. They have no good choices. The rest of us can take satisfaction that the ship of fools has run aground.

Via Don Jr. Russia emails trap Trump and his whole circus. They have no good choices.

There’s much yet to come, and those of us in opposition will see it through, confident from the beginning that we have been right in that opposition.

Trump Uses the Same Old Russia Excuses

For more on how Trump sows fear, uncertainty, or doubt to evade simple, direct questions, see David Graham’s The Trump Uncertainty Principle @ The Atlantic (“When Trump wants to rebut a charge, he seldom flatly denies it. Instead, he generally prefers to sow doubt, skillfully stressing uncertainties to obfuscate and muddy the issue.”)

One hears much from Trump’s most fervent supporters about the need for personal responsibility, greatness, etc., but when the object of their devotion speaks he uses techniques common only to an excuse-making child.

‘What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump’

Michael Morell, former deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013 and twice acting director, and Samantha Vinograd of the National Security Council staff from 2009 to 2013, speculate from experience on What Putin’s team is probably telling him about Trump:

This is a speculative account of a memo that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s national security team would likely send him as he prepares to meet with President Trump for the first time this week. It is not a reflection of how we see the issues; it is a reflection of how we think Putin’s closest aides see the issues.

Mr. President, when you meet with President Trump at the Group of 20 meeting this week in Hamburg, you will do so at a historic time. Russia is in its strongest position since the end of the Cold War; the United States, our great adversary, is the weakest it has been. We are on the road to achieving our fundamental national security objectives — for Russia to retake its place as a great power and to have a sphere of influence in the countries on our periphery.

This did not happen by chance; it happened because we took action. We undertook the most successful covert political influence campaign since World War II. We kept our nemesis Hillary Clinton out of the White House, and we installed a president who is deepening existing schisms in his country while creating new ones at home and abroad. This is the first time in history that the United States has been attacked by another country and not come together as a nation; instead, our actions have caused it to come apart. This is a great victory for us.

Needless to say, I’m not able to speculate reasonably on what Putin’s advisors are telling the Russian dictator, but any guidance that tells him that he’s won a great victory over America seems right to me.

Trump is a huge gift to Russian power, nearly in proportion to his ignorance, bigotry, nativism, mendacity, authoritarian tendencies, and preference for foreign autocrats.

Saying all this about Trump is simply stating the obvious about him, but it’s worth remembering that a core of American fellow travelers and fifth-columnists, having more sympathy for Putinism than America values, made Putin’s meddling and Trump’s excreable rise possible. (See, Useful Idiots: Trump is getting played by the Russians – but so is the rest of the GOP, where John Stoehr applies the phrase, dubiously attributed to Lenin, to contemporary politics.)

There are, in a rough, descending order of culpability for Putin’s interference in our politics, the following: (1) those who have collaborated with Russians or other third parties to undermine American liberty & sovereignty, (2) those sympathetic to Putinism (including white nationalists, anti-Muslim bigots, and theologically-confused & intellectually-stunted Americans who ludicrously think that Putin’s a moral exemplar), (3) those who wilfully refuse to see the damage Putin has done, (4) those who for years have maintained the low standards that have allowed Putin’s lies to flourish (including every glad-handing Babbitt in every town in America), and (5) those of us who should have seen more clearly, and dealt with the rest more assertively & decisively, all these years gone by.

James Comey Testimony, U.S. Senate, 6.8.17

Below is a video of James Comey’s June 8th open-session testimony before the U.S. Senate, a link to a transcript of these remarks, and his printed statement for the record (released before the hearing but not delivered in Comey’s oral testimony given today).

James Comey testimony transcript on Trump and Russia @ POLITICO.

Statement for the Record, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, James B. Comey, June 8, 2017:

Download (PDF, 106KB)

Rubin & Kendzior on Trump-Russia

Jennifer Rubin and Sarah Kendzior offer complimentary observations on Trump-Russia, that compound word for the evident association between Trump and Putin’s authoritarian state.

Rubin’s remarks are from yesterday, Kendzior’s from May 20th.

Rubin asks, of Trump, Would a spy for Russia be acting any differently?:

By whatever means, Russia has reaped unexpected and unparalleled benefits from Trump’s presidency. One can attribute all these individual actions to luck or coincidence, I suppose. But Trump has yet to take a single action nor have a single public interchange that harmed Russia’s interests. You’d think by the law of averages he’d once in a while stumble into a position that put him fundamentally at odds with Russia. That, however, has not occurred. Nor has it been possible for respected advisers to keep him from giving Russians intelligence data, sowing discord with allies and employing his son-in-law, whose contacts with the Russians seem curiouser and curiouser each day.

Sarah Kendzior, in a television interview, sees a close connection between Trump & Putin as a consequence of their shared disregard for the rule of law, corruption, and authoritarian personalities:


In either case, Trump will never get past Trump-Russia, because that close connection defines his politically degenerate outrlook.